WASHINGTON (Reuters) -One day after a former police officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers was in talks on a policing reform bill, but the issue of qualified immunity for officers accused of excessive force remained a sticking point.
Republican Senator Tim Scott and Democratic Senator Cory Booker said on Wednesday that talks were making progress. Democratic Representative Karen Bass, whose George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, has also been involved.
Scott and Booker are also in informal discussions with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, an aide familiar with the talks said.
“I think we are on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two, depending on how quickly they respond to our suggestions,” Scott told reporters.
Scott introduced a policing bill last summer during global protests sparked by the death of Floyd, an African-American man whom white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
That bill failed in the Senate after Democrats said it relied too much on incentives rather than mandating changes.
Chauvin’s conviction on Tuesday prompted new calls for action in Congress on police reform. The George Floyd bill, which aims to put a stop to aggressive law enforcement tactics, has not yet been considered by the Senate.
Republicans have criticized Bass’ bill because it strips police officers of qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity protects police officers and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, allowing lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.
Unions for police officers and sheriffs have both opposed the changes to qualified immunity made in the House bill.
Scott said his proposal would make it easier for victims of police violence to sue police departments, rather than police officers.
Civilians currently face numerous legal barriers in trying to hold police departments or municipalities accountable for civil rights violations.
According to Supreme Court precedent, they typically must show that official policies or certain customs were the “moving force” behind their injuries, or that the officer had been improperly trained. Courts often dismiss those claims, citing an absence of evidence.
‘A PATH FORWARD’
President Joe Biden plans to address police reform legislation in his first speech to a joint session of Congress next week, the White House said on Wednesday.
Booker said reforms remained necessary, even after Tuesday’s verdict.
“Any meaningful bill must include accountability for egregious misconduct, more transparency and changing police practices to prevent police violence from occurring in the first place,” Booker said in a statement.
“I’m encouraged by the conversations I’m having with fellow senators on both sides of the aisle, and am hopeful we can find a path forward on meaningful policing reform,” he added.
Bass declined to give details about the talks, but told reporters: “There’s a lot of room for discussion around qualified immunity. … We need the individual officers and the agencies to be accountable.”
Bass said she hoped there would be a Senate bill by May 25.
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